Dear Rachel,

All my life, whenever something good happens to me or is about to happen to me, something goes wrong. Whether it’s a new job, a new relationship, a new place to live, or even a family event, something always happens to ruin it. I feel like a greyhound at a racetrack chasing a rabbit—like G‑d is always holding out some prize to me and then snatching it away when I get within reach. Why would He do that? It’s not like what I’m trying to do is bad or wrong.

At a Loss

Dear At a Loss,

I can’t profess to know why G‑d does things. But I can offer you some suggestions of what to do from your end.

A famous letter written by Nachmonides, called Iggeret HaRamban, teaches that to develop proper awe of G‑d, we have to have humility. Humility is the key to both serving G‑d and attaining happiness; it gives us the ability to be flexible and adaptable, to let go and let G‑d.

The I feel like a greyhound chasing a rabbitonly constant in the world is change. Rabbi Yehuda Loew (Maharal) says that the world is constantly moving, constantly being recreated, and our lives are moving with it. This is scientifically borne out: according to quantum physics, all matter is really just vibrating energy—nothing is static.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says that if a person is conscious of the fact that everything that happens to him is for his good, he experiences a taste of the next world. We think we know what is good for us and what will make us happy, but G‑d ultimately knows better. I’m pretty sure that if you thought about it, you’d agree that some of the things that you considered negative in your life ended up being the threshold to something wonderful.

How does a mother coax her child to walk? By holding out some beloved toy or prize. The child wants the toy and walks towards it, only to have it sometimes pulled away at the last moment. That’s because the mother’s aim is not to give the child the toy, but to encourage the child to walk. Perhaps G‑d is doing the same thing. He may be holding out something to you because He wants you to take a step in a particular direction, and He’s giving you an incentive to do it. Once you’re going in the right direction, the incentive isn’t necessary any more, so He takes it away.

Everyone has events and circumstances in their lives that are designed specifically for them to reach whatever goals G‑d has set for them. For some people, it’s having many children; for others, it’s having to move from place to place or job to job. Some people are poor; some live long, healthy lives; others are sick. The circumstances are not what’s important. What’s important is how we react to those circumstances.

When the plague of hail fell on Egypt, the wheat and the spelt were not destroyed. Because they ripened later, they were still soft, so they bent under the hail and didn’t break.1 In other words, they survived because they were flexible.

We all have plans and diaries and schedules. We make plans for our lives and for our days, and we micromanage every facet of them. But our plans must always defer to G‑d’s plans. G‑d has moved your cheese, and He wants you to take action. But you can do that only if you are willing to bend your will to His. To defer to the divine, if you will.

You may have heard the famous story of Reb Zusha:

A man asked the Maggid of Mezeritch, “The Talmud tells us that ‘a person is supposed to bless G‑d for the bad just as he blesses Him for the good.’ How is this possible?”

The Maggid sent this man to Reb Zusha of Anipoli to get his answer. Reb Zusha lived in dire poverty and ill health; his home was dilapidated, and his family did not His home was dilapidated, and his family did not have enough to eathave enough to eat. When this man posed the same question to Reb Zushe, he answered, “I don’t know why the Maggid sent you to me. He should have sent you to someone who has experienced suffering . . .”

Reb Zushe realized it was all good. Nothing bad ever happens to us, but we don’t have the vision to see things that way. We can’t see it because we are limited. We have to trust that G‑d knows what He’s doing, and that He’s doing the best for us. And the only way to to do this is with humility.

When the child who’s reaching the toy realizes he’s achieved walking, he isn’t mad at his mother; he’s delighted, and forgets all about the toy. He revels in his newfound talent, and his mother cheers him on. G‑d is cheering us on. If we don’t get the job or the apartment or the relationship, it just means that we were supposed to be somewhere else doing something else. Everything is arranged by G‑d for our ultimate good, whether it’s missing a bus, or not being invited to a party, or losing a job, or having to move. The source of our unhappiness isn’t the change in our plans; it’s that G‑d’s plans conflict with our own. If we just humbly go along, we’ll discover that we ended up where we needed to be. That’s why whenever we make plans, we say “B’ezrat Hashem (“G‑d willing”) or bli neder (“without promising”).

If you follow G‑d’s roadmap, you’ll never get lost. G‑d willing.

I’d like to thank my son Joshua Israel Geller for providing many of the sources and ideas behind this column.